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New York Plans to Seek ESSA Waivers on Testing

Add New York to the growing list of states that will ask U.S. Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos for waiver relief from portions of the Every Student Succeeds Act. 

The state plans to ask for three waivers invovling how it tests its special education, immigrant, and middle school students, according to a press release posted on its website

States have had an exceedingly difficult time aligning their state policies with federal policies in coming up with plans to implement ESSA. While many states in the first round of those submitting plans to the federal government attempted to write aroundignore, or postpone addressing several portions of the law, others, such as New Jersey and Florida, have sought waivers from the new K-12 law. 

Under ESSA, any state seeking a waiver must prove to the federal government that what it's proposing to do is just as effective, or more so, than what the federal law requires.

The New York education department's testing policies are some of the most politically volatile in the country, and a raucous opt-out movement has forced Democratic Gov. Andrew Cuomo to flip-flop on his stance on education and sparked a top-down review of its standards, teacher evaluations, and testing vendors.  

In its waiver requests, New York plans to ask the following: 

  • That it be allowed to count in its school accountability system 7th graders' results on math and science high school exams and 8th graders' results on high school science exams, instead of the students' grade-level assessments. "This waiver is necessary to reduce this burden upon NYS' high-achieveing students and schools," the department said in its request.  
  • That it be allowed to exempt newly arrived English-language learners for one year from the state's English/Language Arts exam and then use the students' second-year ELA scores as a baseline before using the scores for school accountability purposes in year three and beyond. "The New York State E/LA test can serve as a source of extreme anxiety for students who are already carrying a high testing burden when compared with other students in New York State," the department said.  
  • That the state be allowed to give students with significant cognitive disabilities a test that matches the instructional level of the students, instead of the age of the student. "This waiver will allow NYSED to more accurately measure these students' achievement levels for the use of school districts in making future instructional decisions," the state said.

Neither New Jersey's or New York's waivers are as extensive as Florida's. The Sunshine State will attempt mostly to keep intact its A-F accountability system which does not, among other things, factor in achievement gaps between racial and socioeconomic student groups or how well English-learners perform on language-proficiency exams.

Civil rights groups have aggressively pushed back against Florida's plan, arguing that it's devoid of research-based practices and will disproportionately harm the state's large Hispanic and black populations. The draft plan now sits on the governor's desk. 

U.S. Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos said in a visit to the state last week,"We will take each state's plan and consider it as they are submitted to us. I'm looking forward to Florida's innovations in their plans."

It's not clear how DeVos will handle waiver requests.  


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